For one inning on Thursday in Atlanta, it looked like more of the same from a struggling Ross Stripling. Then, finally, he found the pivot point he’s been searching for.
Stripling was dominant after allowing two quick runs, shutting down the Braves the rest of the way to strike out nine over five innings in the 8-4 win at Truist Park, his best outing since joining the Blue Jays in 2020. Battling to keep his spot in the rotation after an inconsistent start to his season, Stripling’s timing couldn’t have been better.
This matched Stripling’s highest strikeout total in nearly three years, stretching back to May 30, 2018, and it looks like he’s finally found the pitch mix that he’s been searching for. Earlier this season, Stripling leaned too heavily on his slider, which eventually led to a stint on the IL with a right forearm strain, but he featured his curveball ahead of the slider on Thursday and it worked.
“I’ve never been a strikeout guy, so I don’t expect to go out there and strike out nine [again] in my next outing,” Stripling said, “but to miss bats like that compared to how the season has gone so far? That’s certainly encouraging. The things we’ve worked on since coming off the IL, from mixing up the windup and other things we’ve done, I feel like we’re taking good steps forward.”
Stripling’s fastball, though, has been the most interesting development of late. He’ll never be a pitcher who blows hitters away -- and he knows that -- but his fastball has been showing a little more life lately.
In his last outing against the Astros, Stripling touched 95 mph twice, something he’s done just 17 times in his career. On Thursday, he topped out at 94.7 mph, creeping toward that peak velocity yet again. This was a focus for Stripling in the offseason as he added long toss to his training program and tried to get “more violent” with his delivery, hoping to not only increase his velocity but carry it deeper into games.
This should all allow Stripling to exhale, even if just for a moment. The pressure was on following his last outing, as Stripling’s numbers weren’t cutting it and the Blue Jays were beginning to get some of their injured arms back as healthy options. Thursday's outing secures his role for the time being, though, and as long as he can continue to give Toronto five steady innings moving forward, he’ll keep it.
“When you’re struggling and all of a sudden things go wrong in the first inning, like today, that’s when things can really get bad,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “[Stripling] regrouped and kept us in the game, threw strikes, kept hitters off balance. It could have gone the other way easily because we’re all human. When you’re already struggling and something bad happens, it’s tough to regroup. But he did. All of the credit goes to him.”
The Blue Jays still needed a late comeback, though, after a rare misstep from their bullpen when Tim Mayza gave the lead back on a two-run shot to Dansby Swanson.
Bo Bichette delivered the big hit in the ninth, driving home two with a double into the right-center gap. Following big nights by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández earlier in the series, Bichette took over in the finale with a pair of hits and three RBIs, helping to secure the series sweep and a 6-0 sweep of the Braves on the season. The Blue Jays scored 10 runs after the seventh inning in this series alone, finding ways to string together hits more consistently.
“If our pitching does the job, we’re always going to have a chance,” Montoyo said. “That’s been true these past three games. If the pitching keeps us within reach, we have a chance. It was good to see Biggio have good at-bats, and [Lourdes Gurriel Jr.], too. Those are two guys who were really struggling and hitting around .200, but the at-bats have been a lot better. Once they get going, this lineup will really stretch out, and that’s what happened today.”
Viewing this Blue Jays roster through the wide lens, like Montoyo is here, it’s easy to see where his optimism comes from. All it takes is one stretch of hot bats or one off-day from an opposing reliever, and this lineup is capable of closing any reasonable gap.
Stripling and the Blue Jays’ other starters don’t need to toss seven innings of shutout ball each time they take the mound. “He gave us a chance” has always been a compliment from Montoyo when he discusses that day’s starter, so if Stripling continues to do that, he’ll keep getting opportunities.